The Moroccan recently sat down with Tribalfootball's Emanuele Giulianelli to discuss his Magpies future, Benevento and his World Cup aspirations.
How has the atmosphere been at Benevento this week after the AC Milan result? How has Alberto Brignoli handled the publicity? What has he said to the players?
Of course it has been a very special week for us. When you are at zero points, what's more important is to make the first one. We worked out and taking the first point against a team like Milan is even more special.
And it was really unbelievable that this first point has been given to us by our goalkeeper. Alberto Brignoli is our hero! I can't tell you how my teammates have greeted him because I'm not in Benevento. I'm in Barcelona to recover from my knee injury. But I'm always in contact with them, we communicated a lot on our group on chat; even on the web Brignoli has become a star.
Results aside, how have you found being back in Italy and playing in Serie A?
I think I know Italian football well because I spent four years in Palermo, from where I have some important and beautiful memories. I have come back to Italy to play more minutes and give my contribution to Benevento.
They needed me and I needed them to make something important. I came to Benevento because I needed to play and they decided to bet on me because they wanted a good player, an important name.
Are you happy with the position you're playing? Do you regard yourself as a left-back or midfielder?
I am a left-back in a four line, and the fifth on the left if the team play with five. Stop. None have to invent anything (told smiling, not polemic!).
Of course if a manager needs me to play goalkeeper I'm available to do it if my team needs me to do it to gain points. But I feel myself as left-back at four; this has always been my position even with the national team.
Benevento have played all the title contenders this season - which team has been the most impressive you've faced?
Sincerely I tell you Napoli. They have a great playing style, they never throw away the ball. I like their football very much.
Even when they are in their own box, they have the personality to go out with the ball on their feet, with their intelligence and with the technique they have. And even for the forwards they have, it's not usual that they score less than three goals in one match. They really impressed me.
Is Newcastle in contact with you while with Benevento?
Of course. I have a wonderful relationship with the guys at Newcastle, we have a group on WhatsApp, I follow them and they follow me because I really feel like one of them. Besides, I have a five years contract with them!
When you sign a contract for five years with a club, you feel like a son and they become your family. I receive many messages for every match I play from Rafa Benitez and it really give me pleasure. I appreciate him so much, he is a great manager who has won a lot.
I haven't had so much space with him last year, but I just needed to adapt myself. Now I need to put minutes in my legs, to play and to find what I was lacking the last year.
Your loan is without a permanent option. Do you expect to return to Newcastle at the end of the season?
No options, nothing at all. Furthermore I can tell you one thing: Newcastle didn't even want me to go away on loan. It was me, I let them understand that I really cared about playing more minutes.
The most important thing, in my opinion, for a football player is playing the more minutes possibile, in order to have the right concentration, the right focus that you have on the matches. You can even train a lot, you can train a lot on the extras and I do it very much, but the matches are different.
And that was what I missed very much: this is why I decided to come back on loan to Italy. I wanted to find again the Lazaar I was, in the league where I was born, in order to come back to Newcastle much stronger than before.
Are you following the club's takeover? Will this affect your thinking about a return?
No, I don't think something will change for me. I'm really happy to be part of Newcastle United. We are a big club and I think that every player would like to play for them. I repeat: it was all my fault, to think more about why I wasn't playing, instead of thinking only that the ball is rounded and to play and improve myself.
Newcastle is a top level club, with a top level manager like Rafa Benitez, a man from whom there is much to learn. I would sign a contract for all my life with them, sincerely!
Why didn't it work out for you at Newcastle in the Championship last season? Has playing in Serie A been good for the self-belief?
When a team wins always, it's really hard to change it. But mister Benitez has given chances to everyone. In my career I never had the experience of not playing for much time, to be left outside the eleven for three or four matches in a row; when this happened to me at Newcastle, I didn't take it so good.
So I started not to focus and concentrate on training and on the matches, but on making thoughts to understand what was wrong with me. These are all wasted energies! This was my mistake. I had just to think only to give my best, to make myself find ready. The thoughts I had made me look like I wasn't concentrated; but truly I thought much about football, because football is everything to me.
Football is my life: if I don't play good football, I don't even want to go out, because I feel sad. It's like my family throws me out of home, when I play bad or don't play. I was one of the leaders in Palermo: finding another atmosphere, a different experience has been hard; but now I've understood what I have to fix. And I feel really more mature, confident that I will be able to face every difficulty there could be.
Serie A has helped me, because you find opponents that know you well and know your reputation. You find again the respect you had on the pitch and of the managers. Much more after I was able to score a goal again, it was very beautiful. Exciting, as always.
Tell us a little about the passion of Newcastle fans and how it compares with what you've experienced in Italy.
Talking about the audience and the fans, English football is completely different from the Italian. You just have to think that we have played in Championship, that is like the Italian Serie B, always with the full crowded stadium: I think Newcastle have the best fans all over England. They had something like 55k season ticket holder: fantastic!
Rafa Benitez signed you. Has he told you if he sees you in his long-term plans?
He is always interested in what I do, he always sends me messages and I'm really pleased to it. This means that he has interest for me and that maybe he sees a part for me in his plans. He has always been really clear and frank towards me and always told me what was wrong with me.
He told me that I had always to think to give my 100%, but I didn't. As I told you, I was too focused to ask myself why I wasn't playing and this took off from me many energies that I could have used to take the place of someone else in the starting eleven.
I immediately noticed him, he is a player who could make the difference with our Palermo. We had a great team and we could have important targets.
Everyone, in my opinion, has the road that he deserves; so he deserves the success he's having. This is even thanks to his extraordinary family that helps him a lot. I hope he will become one of the best players in the world.
Do you think Dybala's style of game would suit England?
I don't know because I'm not a manager or a scout. I can only tell that I see him with great technical skills and vision of the game; but in England, football is very tough, with very physical players. So I don't know, maybe he could do well.
What was life like at Palermo under Maurizio Zamparini? How did the players take to the president?
Zamparini is an extraordinary man until he takes you well. When he doesn't want you anymore, he doesn't consider you anymore. He is a frank man. He tells you everything on your face, everything he thinks about you.
He doesn't speak at your shoulders! What he thinks about you, he tells it to you and to everyone. He's a good man and I always have to thank him because he has helped me becoming the Lazaar I am. In four years with him I've grown up even as a man and I thank him for this.
Are you confident making Morocco's World Cup squad?
I have always been part of that squad. Sincerely, reaching a qualification to the World Cup after twenty years is really exciting.
Morocco, to me, is like a mum. You can't leave her, you can't tell her no. For me the national team is something I can't describe: it's in my heart and I would like always to be part of it. I haven't been capped for the last matches because I didn't play much with Newcastle, so I think that the decision of the head coach was right.
He even explained me the reason why he didn't call me, but I see that there's a big need of a left back in the national team. I always receive messages from my teammates or from the assistant head coach. The coach told me to be confident, to think only about doing well. I would give my blood and my heart for them, and I will always be there for them. Like I do for my mother.
What's your opinion about the prespective of Morocco at the World Cup?
It brings bad luck to talk about the things before doing them. But I tell you that we are an important squad; just take a look at the names on the paper and how they are playing in their clubs. We have important skills and we want to show to the whole world that we deserve to play the World Cup.
We have a very important coach in Hervé Renard, who has won a lot in Africa and helped us, together with the president, to get this qualification. We want to show what we can do. And I think that Morocco could even teach a little football.
Will Munir El Haddadi be welcome by the Moroccan players should his appeal to FIFA be positive?
I don't know exactly what the federation is doing, but in my opinion they and Renard know well if a player could give something important to the national team.
The only thing I want to tell is that someone has to come to the national team only if he has it in his heart and has the national colours in his blood.
If not, it makes no sense to come. If Munir feels the colours, I don't have much more to say that welcome and fight for your country!